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'Disjointed' Is Like Any Workplace Sitcom — With More Pot, Sex And Language

Aug 25, 2017
Originally published on August 26, 2017 12:42 am

Chuck Lorre is, without question, television's sitcom king. He created two of today's top money-making syndicated shows — The Big Bang Theory and Two and a Half Men — and his other hits over the years include Dharma & Greg, Grace Under Fire, Mike & Molly and Mom.

So why did every single broadcast network turn down his latest sitcom?

One word: Cannabis.

Lorre's new show, Disjointed, co-created with David Javerbaum, premieres Friday on Netflix. Kathy Bates stars as the proprietress of a medical marijuana dispensary.

The show's Los Angeles set is a hippy-looking shop filled with psychedelic posters and glass cases displaying actual product. On a recent day of shooting a prop guy was handing out vape pens to the actors. "We'll be vaping," he says. "Vaaaaping."

Waaaay too edgy for Lorre's home network, CBS — even though he's earned the company more than $1 billion with The Big Bang Theory, according to Deadline Hollywood.

"We didn't even get a meeting out of it," Lorre said during an interview at his production offices in Burbank. "We sent the script and got back: No."

Lorre describes his latest show, Disjointed, as just a regular workplace comedy, with wacky customers and lovable employees. Think Cheers, he says.

"The fact that they're smoking pot — if they were sitting at a bar in Boston drinking with Sam and Norm and Cliff — they're still a surrogate family and people care about each other," he says.

But the family tension in Disjointed is also more literal, deriving partly from the dynamic between Bates' Earth mother character and her much more corporate son. He's trying to convince her to build her pot dispensary into a national chain.

"The gold rush is on, and pretty soon, someone's gonna become the Walmart of cannabis," he coaxes. "Why not us?"

"Walmart is evil," Bates' character retorts (just before her son reminds her that she shops there herself).

To ensure the accuracy of portraying this small, woman-owned business, Disjointed hired cannabis consultant Dina Browner. "Dr. Dina" runs a pot dispensary in West Hollywood.

"I am not a real doctor, but I am board certified by Snoop Dogg," she jokes on the Disjointed set, where she helps select props, consults on set design and guides the actors on how to properly pretend to smoke weed. "They tend to hold the joints like cigarettes ... I hate that," she says.

Bates says she needed no such coaching; the subject matter is partly what drew her to the show. "I have chronic pain and have had my doctor give me a permit to have medical marijuana and it's made such a difference to me," she explains.

Lorre doesn't use cannabis himself, but wryly offers that he's "certainly had a great deal of experience with the various and sundry chemicals, both fermented and otherwise."

It's no secret that Lorre's been in recovery for many years. He does not discuss it directly, but his shows do. His show Mom, for example, is about a pair of recovering addicts, a mother and daughter. When I ask Lorre how he feels about making a comedy about people using drugs, he replies: Why not do it?

"I don't want to be the spokesperson for sobriety or intoxication, but I would like to be the spokesperson for things that I think are funny," he says. "I discussed it with friends who I trust for their insight and perspective: Is it appropriate for me to do something like this? And the response was always: Why not? It's funny."

But ... let's be honest; pot humor isn't always that funny unless you happen to be high.

"Pot humor can be slow," acknowledges co-creator David Javerbaum. "It can very slow and it can be very arduous and that's not gonna work with the rhythm of a multi-cam[era sitcom]. It's gotta be fast."

Javerbaum is a former head writer for Comedy Central's The Daily Show and the Broadway play An Act of God. Disjointed was entirely his idea. Javerbaum told NPR that he wants viewers to feel high when they watch it and it's OK with him if most of the audience is actually stoned.

"I mean, people are watching Netflix stoned with or without our show," he points out. "By the millions, I would imagine. If the only people who watch us are stoned people who watch Neflix, that's an enormous audience. And that would be enough."

Back on the Disjointed set, a director shouts out, "We're rolling!" On this show, that could mean any number of things.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Chuck Lorre is television's sitcom king. But every single broadcast network turned down his latest sitcom. NPR's Neda Ulaby tells us why.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: Chuck Lorre's new show starts Friday on Netflix with a huge star, Kathy Bates. It's called "Disjointed."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DISJOINTED")

KATHY BATES: (As Ruth) I'm Ruth Whitefeather Feldman, cannabis lawyer, cannabis activist and, just before I opened the door, cannabis user.

(LAUGHTER)

ULABY: Bates plays the proprietress of a medical marijuana dispensary. Recently I visited the show's Los Angeles set, a hippy-looking shop filled with psychedelic posters in glass cases displaying real product and a prop guy handing out vape pens to the actors.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: And we'll be vaping, vaping.

ULABY: All this was way too edgy for Chuck Lorre's home network even though his shows at CBS have earned more than a billion dollars according to Deadline Hollywood.

CHUCK LORRE: Nobody - we didn't even get a meeting out of it. We sent the script in and got back no.

ULABY: Bear in mind you're hearing the voice of someone who's created a multitude of other hits, including "Dharma and Greg," "Grace Under Fire," "Mike And Molly" and "Mom." Lorre says his latest show is just a workplace comedy - wacky customers, lovable employees, much in fact like "Cheers."

LORRE: The fact that they're smoking pot or if they were sitting at a bar in Boston, drinking with Sam and Norm and Cliff, there's still a surrogate family happening there of people care about each other.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DISJOINTED")

AARON MOTEN: (As Travis) Mom, this is a blueprint for the future.

ULABY: The tension in "Disjointed" comes partly from the dynamic between Kathy Bates' Earth mother and her much-more-corporate son. He's trying to convince her to build her pot dispensary into a national chain.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DISJOINTED")

MOTEN: (As Travis) The gold rush is on, and pretty soon, somebody's going to become the Walmart of cannabis. Why not us?

(LAUGHTER)

BATES: (As Ruth) Because Walmart is evil.

MOTEN: (As Travis) You shop there.

(LAUGHTER)

BATES: (As Ruth) Only when I'm buying in bulk.

(LAUGHTER)

ULABY: There are so many issues to explore in "Disjointed," including just the challenges of running a small woman-owned business. To ensure its accuracy, the show hired someone who does it for real.

DINA BROWNER: I am the cannabis consultant for the show.

ULABY: Dina Browner runs an actual dispensary in West Hollywood. She calls herself Dr. Dina.

BROWNER: I'm not a real doctor, but I am board certified by Snoop Dogg.

ULABY: Perhaps not the first time she's used that line. Browner says she helps pick out props for the show and guides the actors, some of whom are green when it comes to smoking weed.

BROWNER: They tend to hold the joints like cigarettes, which is my biggest - yeah, I hate that.

ULABY: But "Disjointed" star Kathy Bates says she needed no such coaching. The subject matter is partly what drew her to the show.

BATES: I have chronic pain, and I have had my doctor give me a permit to have medical marijuana. And it's made such a difference for me.

ULABY: The co-creator of "Disjointed" Chuck Lorre does not use cannabis himself.

LORRE: I've certainly had a great deal of experience with the various and sundry chemicals both fermented and otherwise.

ULABY: It's no secret that Lorre's been in recovery for many years. He does not discuss it directly, but his shows often do. His show "Mom," for example, is about a pair of recovering addicts - a mother and daughter. I asked Lorre how he felt about making a comedy about people using drugs.

LORRE: Why not do it, you know? I don't want to become the spokesperson for sobriety or intoxication. But I would like to be the spokesperson for things that I think are funny. You know, I discussed with friends who I trust, you know, for their insight and perspective. Is it appropriate for me to do something like this? And their response was always, why not? It's funny.

ULABY: But pot humor is not always funny unless you happen to be high. Take a moment in the show when two stoners make a YouTube video.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "DISJOINTED")

CHRIS REDD: (As Dank) Hi, I'm Dank.

BETSY SODARO: (As Dabby) And I'm Dabby. And you're watching Dank and Dabby, the channel by stoners, for stoners.

REDD: (As Dank) And by stoners.

(LAUGHTER)

ULABY: The entire idea for the show was David Javerbaum's. He co-created "Disjointed."

DAVID JAVERBAUM: Pot humor can be slow. It can be very slow. It can be very arduous. That's not going to work with the rhythm of a multi-cam. It's got to be fast.

ULABY: Javerbaum is a former head writer for Comedy Central's "The Daily Show." He says with "Disjointed," he actually wants viewers to feel high when they watch it. And he says it's OK with him if most of the audience actually is stoned.

JAVERBAUM: I mean people are watching Netflix stoned with or without our show, you know, by the millions, I would imagine. If the only people who watch us are stoned people who watch Netflix, that's an enormous audience. And I - that would be enough.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Here we go.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: All right. Let's roll, please.

ULABY: Back on the "Disjointed" set, a director says, we're rolling. On this show, that could mean any number of things. Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.